Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Book of Revelation

Six years in the making, "The Book of Revelation", was adapted from Rupert Thomson's 1999 novel. It debuted at the Melbourne International Film Festival in July 2006 to a sold-out audience at the Forum Theatre. Surprisingly, this controversial film was partly financed by the Australian government, probably because of the sociological significance, or at least that was the selling point.

The Book of Revelation” is about a dancer who is drugged and abducted in a back alley, before being locked up in a shipping container down by the docks. He is chained and stripped naked while three women, their faces hidden behind masks and hoods, indulge in mind games and power plays as they rape him, abuse him, then throw him back into the world twelve days later, a broken man. “The Book of Revelation” is supposed to be a psychological mystery about a man's struggle to regain his lost self. 
Daniel (Tom Long) and his girlfriend, Bridget (Anna Torv) are the principal dancers in choreographer Isabel's (Greta Scacchi) renowned company. In the lead up to a new show Daniel goes out to buy cigarettes for Bridget during a break in rehearsals - and doesn't return for almost two weeks. Frantic efforts are made to find him, but no one knows where to look. Bridget is devastated by her boyfriend's sudden disappearance and humiliated by the implication that Daniel was fleeing a loveless relationship.  

Twelve days after his capture Daniel is dumped, blindfolded, on the outskirts of the city. He returns home a shattered man. Unable to confide in Bridget or Isabel, he packs his bags and flees. In the weeks that follow, the events perpetrated on him by his abductors, three hooded women, begin to be revealed. Too ashamed to seek help, Daniel embarks on a search to discover their identity. With a few tantalising physical clues to go by his journey turns into a sexual odyssey fuelled by the memory of his bizarre imprisonment.  

His mentor Isabel, who has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, enlists the help of her former husband Olsen (Colin Friels), a detective in the police special victims unit. Although he manages to bring Daniel back into contact with Isabel and the dance world, Olsen cannot bring the younger man to reveal the cause of his suffering.  

It's only when Daniel meets Julie (Deborah Mailman), a university student whose black skin rules her out as a suspect, that he begins to trust women again. The gentle love that blossoms between them is abruptly shattered when Daniel thinks he sees one of the abductors at a nightclub. He follows his suspect into the bathroom and, in a frenzy, attacks her before realizing his mistake and running out, chased by a group of men who proceed to beat him up. Landing in jail for his assault on the woman, Julie contacts Olsen, and presumably, the healing process begins.

First of all, the title doesn't work. I suppose the author of the book, Rupert Thomson, was trying to grab people with the Biblical and Apocalyptic title. However, the title has no connection with the content of the story. Director Anna Kokkinos said she kept the title because she wanted to stay true to the book. But what exactly was Daniel's revelation in this movie? 

The revelation in this film, I suppose, could refer to Daniel's loss of both innocence and self-regard after he is sexually abused by three female abductors, but that is not really a revelation. Ana Kokkinos said she wanted the film to force us to look at abuse with "fresh eyes", as "human beings" instead of from either side of a gender divide. So maybe she wanted the audience to have a revelation after watching this film. Kokkinos particularly hoped the film provoked empathy in men. She sought to make a movie about sexual abuse, with the roles reversed hoping that a man being the victim might bring new insight into the psychological and emotional toll sexual abuse can take on its victim. 

Does it deliver? I think not because I have a strong feeling that men went to see this movie not because they want to ponder the sociological significance of the film, but rather because the image of a man being abducted and sexually abused by women will no doubt arouse the submissive nature in man. It is the femdom elements that will appeal to the male audience, not the feminist goal of starting a dialogue about rape and sexual abuse.  

There are moments of power play in the rape/ abduction scenes that are truly interesting, like when Daniel is forced to jerk-off in front of the women while he watches one of the women masturbate in front of him, or when he is masturbated by force by one of his female captors, or when he is raped by a strap-on by another one of his abductors while he is chained to the floor.

This is heavy-duty stuff for a so-called mainstream movie but I must warn those interested in femdom that these sex scenes are rather short, and they're revealed through a series of flashbacks.  

The scenes of Daniel's captivity make up about 15 minutes in the nearly two hour movie and there are really only four brief sex scenes, the three I mentioned above and one where all three women suck Daniel's cock against his will, shown via a shadow on the wall, the short cut aways and the fading in and out giving the impression that the hooded women abused Daniel this way for a long extended time, making the experience humiliating and not pleasurable. (If only Daniel were into femdom, his ordeal would have been twelve days of pure bliss. All the same, the movie is about abuse and not femdom).  

After he is released by his captors, Daniel begins to seek the three hooded women who abducted him, humiliated him, degraded him and sexually abused him. Because they wore hoods and masks, Daniel never saw their faces, however all three had identifiable marks on their bodies. One woman had a birth mark on her ass, one woman had a tattoo and another woman had a small circle on her breast. Daniel sleeps with as many women as he can, hoping he can find at least one of his captors. He sleeps with a lot of women, by the way.  

Naturally, no one would believe Daniel’s story (a handsome heterosexual man captured by three young women and forced to have sex with them) and he knows this, thus he keeps the incident to himself, eventually only telling the police and his girlfriend. The police laugh when Daniel tries to tell them what happened.  

Why do these women need to humiliate and degrade him? No doubt the director Ana Kokkinos wants us to ask this question but we are not provided with many clues towards an answer. All we are told by the hooded women is "it is for our pleasure" and "most men would pay to be in your position".
It does sound like every man’s fantasy, doesn’t it? And that is why, in my opinion, Kokkinos ultimately fails in her goal that such a role reversal in the film will bring new insight to the subject of sexual abuse. If a woman were to be treated the way Daniel was by three men, the audience would be shocked and would be rooting for the woman to gain justice and retribution. But a man that is used for the sexual pleasure of three women cannot overcome the femdom elements and the ever popular male fantasy to be dominated by women. Despite the films attempt to show the great emotional pain that Daniel struggles with throughout the film, most of the men that were interviewed after viewing this movie, and surprisingly a large number of women, said they had trouble being sympathetic toward Daniel.  
This makes me wonder if perhaps Anna Kokkinos did not stumble upon an important sociological discovery after all. Perhaps the significance of this film in the end is not what takes place on the screen but how the audience received it. Abuse is wrong and immoral, no matter who is abusing who, and all sex must always be safe, sane and consensual. However, that does not change the fact that some men went to see this film purely because of the potential femdom scenes of a man being abducted, bound and used for the sexual pleasure of women. And women, by their own admission after seeing this film, did not experience the same kind of discomfort watching a man being raped by women that they do when they see a woman who is raped by a man. These are interesting sociological truths that this movie brings to the forefront, whether that was its goal of not.  
As far as the quality of the movie, the acting is good in parts but the slow movement of the film makes it drag to the point of being boring in segments. Tom Long (Daniel) gives a rather interesting, and at times, wonderful performance. However, I thought he tried too hard at times to look pained. Anna Torv's performance as his gilrfriend is flat, her character is underwritten and her impassive good looks convey little but emptiness. Deborah Mailman puts in a good performance in a small role as the girl who helps Daniel recover from his ordeal. Greta Scacchi was excellent as the ballet director confused by her lead's sudden disappearance and subsequent dramatic change in personality.  
The melodramatic soundtrack got on my nerves at times and I think the movie could not decide if it wanted to be artsy or did it want to appeal to a wider audience. I think when a movie tackles a subject that is primarily about sex, it is only natural for the film makers to try to overcompensate in other areas, being afraid that the film will be branded as soft porn. With scenes showing masturbation and strap-on sex one can understand the director's desire to go for a more artistic tone. But in my opinion, this movie would have been more powerful if we could have seen more about those twelve days when Daniel was the helpless victim to the sadistic and sexual whims of three women.  
It is my understanding that the book did a much better job in portraying the sexual and psychological interactions between Daniel and his captors during those twelve intense days of his captivity. Rupert Thomson even manages to give the reader insight into the rivalries between the three women. Little of this is present in the film.
This movie is hard to give an overall rating because while I cannot say that I enjoyed it, the film was mesmerizing in parts and I think there is enough there to provoke thought and discussion. I think people who are into femdom will enjoy the brief scenes of Daniel’s captivity, especially the strap-on scene where a naked woman wearing a mask has her way with a man who is shackled to the floor.

Another interesting thought I had when I watched this film, and in particular the scenes of Daniel’s captivity, is how a woman can dominate a man with her eyes. Most of the time these three women were dressed almost like Monks or Islamic women who live under strict Patriarchal societies. The purpose was to hide their identity from their victim, but I found a sexiness and a dominance when the camera would show the women’s eyes as they were having their way with their male victim.

The eyes are truly windows to the soul and when you cover the female up and are forced to only look her in the eyes, one can almost see the entire female nature, the Dominator and the Nurturer, radiating from her at the same time. I think submissive men who watch this film will find their submission stirred from viewing the eyes of these women, with the knowledge that they are dominating, humiliating and abusing a man. I hope to read the book in the future.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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